Sep 11, 2004 10:57am
Re: Netlabels mention in New York Times.
September 10, 2004
No Fears: Laptop D.J.'s Have a Feast
By JON PARELES
DOWNLOADING music from the Internet is not illegal. Plenty of music available online is not just free but also easily available, legal and — most important — worth hearing.
That fact may come as a surprise after highly publicized lawsuits by the Recording Industry Association of America, representing major labels, against fans using peer-to-peer programs like Grokster and EDonkey to collect music on the Web. But the fine print of those lawsuits makes clear that fans are being sued not for downloading but for unauthorized distribution: leaving music in a shared folder for other peer-to-peer users to take. As copyright holders, the labels have the exclusive legal right to distribute the music recorded for them, even if technology now makes that right nearly impossible to enforce.
Recording companies have tried and failed to shut down decentralized file-sharing networks the way they closed the original Napster. (That name is now being used for a paid-download service.)
Courts have ruled that the services can continue because they are also used to exchange material that does not infringe on recording-company copyrights. At the same time, a bill before Congress, the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004, seeks to restrict the way file-sharing programs are constructed.
While the recording business litigates and lobbies over music being given away online, countless musicians are taking advantage of the Internet to get their music heard. They are betting that if they give away a song or two, they will build audiences, promote live shows and sell more recordings.
As with the rest of the free content on the Internet, there's no guaranteed quality control. Lucas Gonze, whose webjay.org lets music fans post playlists that connect to free music and video, describes free Internet music as "a flea market the size of Valhalla."
The first place to look for free music online is at musicians' own sites. Many performers, from Bob Dylan (www.bobdylan.com
) to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (www.yeahyeahyeahs.com
), post hard-to-find songs for listening: some as free downloads, some as streaming audio (which can be recorded with a free program like StepVoice at www.stepvoice.com
). A next place to look is the labels, particularly independent rock and electronic labels like Matador (www.matadorrecords
.com/music/mp3s.html), Vagrant (www.vagrant
.com/vagrant/audio/audio.jsp), Barsuk (www.barsuk
.com), Saddle Creek (www.saddle-creek.com
) or Tigerbeat6 (www.tigerbeat6.com/html/catalogue.htm
Many public radio stations also maintain music archives for streaming or downloading. Among them are the classical-music station WNYC (www .wnyc.org
) and eclectic stations like WFMU in Jersey City (www.wfmu.org
) and KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif. (www.kcrw.org
), all of which have troves of live performances. MTV (at www.mtv.com
) presents an entire album each week as an audio stream.
Following is a selection of sites offering free music online. Most of them are best used with a either a broadband connection or nearly infinite patience. While major-label recordings are largely (but not entirely) off limits, there's more than enough available music to satisfy every listener.
The first and best place to look for any band with an independent recording is www.epitonic.com
, a superbly organized site that is likely to have music from nearly everyone heard on college radio. It includes not only downloadable songs but also biographical information and links for hundreds of acts, grouped under genres and subgenres. And it has an invaluable "Similar Artists" feature that can direct fans of one band to dozens of potential new favorites. Within Epitonic's huge roster is at least a song or two from some major-label acts, among them the New York band Secret Machines, the Texas band Sparta and the English bands Radiohead and Spiritualized. But independent bands like Bright Eyes or Godspeed You Black Emperor are every bit as good.
, music fans share their Web finds with the world. There's no music on the site, just lists of links that allow users either to play entire lists or to download items directly one by one; it also includes links to videos and news sound bites. Webjay is something like the lists submitted by customers at www .amazon.com
, but with connections to the music itself. As such, it's only as good as the widely varied skills of its contributors, and its links aren't always dependable. But it is a way for musical obsessives like bigwavedave to share his fondness for garage-rock or for OddioKatya to point listeners toward a wide assortment of Brazilian songs.
Before the Internet became ubiquitous, the Grateful Dead's fans built up their own network to exchange concert recordings, a network that expanded as other jam bands sprang up. The logical extension of the process is Furthurnet (www.furthurnet
.com). It is a peer-to-peer network that trades only recordings of bands that encourage listeners to record concerts: not just the Dead but Phish, Gov't Mule, Dave Matthews Band, Los Lobos, Wilco and David Byrne as well. Users need to install a program available on the Web site. Most of the available concert recordings don't use MP3 files, but a better quality audio format, SHN, which also requires some software installation. It's easy; information on the site explains all the technicalities.
Another connection for jam bands is www.etree.org
, which points listeners toward recordings stored online and is equally fastidious about high fidelity. Meanwhile, concert recordings of all sorts, from vintage 1960's bootlegs to music only a few days old, have been traded at www.sharingthegroove.org
, although the site is currently undergoing maintenance.
The Library of Congress
Through the years, tax dollars have supported researchers like Alan Lomax on excursions to collect music from every nook and cranny and tradition they could discover across the United States. The Library of Congress has made a considerable amount available free online. A place to start is the American Memory Collection (http://memory
.loc.gov/ammem/audio.html), with fiddle tunes, American Indian music, border music from the Rio Grande, Dust Bowl songs and more.
In 1987, the Smithsonian Institution bought the catalog of Folkways Records, which had set out to document every sound in the world and continues to support projects like a 20-disc collection of Indonesian music. Many of the Folkways recordings can be heard on the Web at www .folkways.si.edu
, from "Classical Music of Iran" to "Creole Music of Suriname" to "Music of Indonesia Vol. 1: Songs Before Dawn."
The Internet Archive (www. .archive.org) has set out to preserve material that might otherwise disappear from the Internet, including Web pages, documents, books and video clips as well as audio, and it includes a Live Music Archive with more than 10,000 concerts via etree.org. Most are from jam bands, but there is plenty to choose from. (More than a million people have downloaded Grateful Dead music from the archive.) The archive also includes an assortment of other audio under All Collections, which has 131 songs from 78-r.p.m. discs, and more than 3,000 songs on what it calls netlabels, most of them releasing electronic music. Try the exotica-tinged selections from Monotonik.
The Internet Underground Music Archive (www.iuma.org
) was a pioneer of free Internet music. It was founded in 1993 as a place for musicians to post their own music online, and it just keeps on expanding. Unfortunately, it is both overwhelming and overwhelmed; finding a good song requires extraordinary luck, and downloading it will take a while. Like the other send-it-yourself sites noted here, Iuma can make a user appreciate what record company scouts do.
Hopefuls face Darwinian competition at www.garageband.com
, where musicians are encouraged to rate 30 songs before submitting one of their own (or pay a $19.99 fee instead) and other listeners are also assigned tracks to rate. The songs that rise to the top of the charts have a chance to be heard on Garageband's radio outlets or collected on its compilation albums. Garageband demands original songs, not cover versions, and its top-rated ones tend to sound more professional, if not always more distinctive, than those at other mass upload sites.
The computer experts at CNet include an extensive selection of music among their software downloads at http://music.download.com.
A vast bulk of the music is submitted by musicians themselves, so there are a lot of derivative sounds to wade through, but the well-organized site also includes worthwhile bands as Editor's Picks, currently including Dios and Ex Models.
A huge site based in England, www.vitaminic.co.uk
, offers tens of thousands of aspiring bands and a smattering of better-known acts, although brand-name bands like Franz Ferdinand tend to offer only streaming audio rather than downloads. But the site is well organized and also includes video clips from the likes of Nick Cave.
A European site where musicians can place their songs online, www
.besonic.com has a slightly more international perspective than the other newcomer sites. Rankings and recommendations help visitors sift the material. Registration is required for downloading.
More than 76,000 songs are available at yet another site for aspiring musicians, www.purevolume.com
, which is strongly weighted toward rock. To winnow the site, try the Pure Picks column or look under the category Music for Top Artists (Signed).
Musicians can also post their own songs on DMusic (www.dmusic
.com). It helps users wade through more than 17,000 acts — an overwhelming majority categorized as alternative or rock — by listing DM Picks and by having users give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down and append comments. As with Iuma, most are amateur submissions, with plenty of jokes, but there are some enjoyable tracks scattered among the picks.
Dance-music experimenters dominate at www.smart-music.net
, a selective site that draws its downloadable MP3's from hard-to-find small labels. Dipping into the genres and subgenres of electronica, Smart-Music has about 300 songs available from (relatively) well-known groups like Mouse on Mars and Zero 7 as well as basement laptop obsessives, and a high percentage of them turn out to be worthwhile.
Slow, deep reggae bass lines are the foundation for whole families of dance music represented at www.ragga-jungle.com.
It's an outlet for amateur and professional producers and toasters (rappers), and the downloadable songs, available free after registration, include echoey dub-reggae vamps, sparse dance-hall productions and frenetic jungle tracks. Each track has ratings and comments, and quick streaming allows users to sample tracks before committing to a download. Contender for best title: "A Waste of Half an Hour of My Life, and Four Minutes of Yours" by the Archangel.
With so much classical music in the public domain, it's a surprise that there aren't more free downloadable sites offering it, although the length of classical compositions can make them inconvenient to download. At www.classiccat.net
, it's possible to search by composer, from Monteverdi to Messiaen. The selection is spotty and links don't always work, but it's a start.
Need some Indonesian gamelan music? On the Internet at www .asianclassicalmp3.org
, a dedicated collector of Asian music has transferred recordings from cassettes to downloadable MP3's. The site includes music from nine countries, including 28 minutes of gamelan music from Java.
The straightforwardly named www.iraqimusic.com
is a resource for both the classical Iraqi improvisations called maqams and more recent Iraqi recordings based on traditional (and thus noncopyrighted) songs. "Sister Sites" provides links to other sites with Middle Eastern music.
A Brazilian record label, Trama (www.tramavirtual.com
), offers about 10,000 MP3's, primarily from local Brazilian bands. The site is in Portuguese and requires users to sign up, but after that, it is fairly easy to navigate. "Baixar" means download.
The Internet is home to countless obsessives. The ones gathered at www.micromusic.net
make their electronic music from the sounds of the first primitive video games. Proud of what they can generate from eight-bit gizmos, they have placed hundreds of blipping, buzzing ditties online, garnering the attention of Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols' manager, among others. Registration is required, but it's a modest inconvenience on the way to tunes like "How Bleep Is My Love."